Natural history of plasmodium odocoilei malaria infection in farmed white-tailed deer

Ann M. Guggisberg, Katherine A. Sayler, Samantha M. Wisely, Audrey R. Odom John

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), an ecologically and economically important species, are the most widely distributed large animals in North America. A recent study indicated that up to 25% of all white-tailed deer may be infected with Plasmodium odocoilei, a malaria parasite belonging to the distinct clade of ungulate-infecting Plasmodium spp. Because the clinical impact of P. odocoilei on deer health and survival is unknown, we undertook a retrospective longitudinal study of farmed Floridian O. virginianus fawns. We found that a substantial proportion (21%) of fawns acquire malaria infection during the first 8 months of life. Some animals naturally clear P. odocoilei infection, while other animals remain persistently positive. Importantly, we found that animals that acquire malaria parasites very early in life have poor survival compared to animals that remain uninfected. Our report thus provides the first evidence of a clinically significant impact of malaria infection in young deer. IMPORTANCE Malaria parasites of the genus Plasmodium are known to infect a variety of vertebrate hosts, including ungulates (hoofed mammals). A recent study found that up to a quarter of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in North America are infected with the parasite Plasmodium odocoilei. In addition to occupying an important ecological niche, white-tailed deer are popular game animals and deer farming represents a rapidly growing industry. However, the effect of P. odocoilei infection in this ecologically and economically important ungulate species is unknown. Our work is significant because (i) we identified a high prevalence of P. odocoilei in farmed deer and (ii) we found evidence for both cleared and persistent infection, as well as an association with decreased survival of young fawns.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00067-18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Malaria
  • Odocoilei virginianus
  • Plasmodium
  • Plasmodium odocoilei
  • Veterinary parasitology
  • White-tailed deer


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